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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Fit to a T

Doesn't anyone do background checks on potential new hires any more?

The Globe offers two front-page stories today that highlight the inadequacy of reference checks. In one case, more than 30 people have contracted Hepatitis C because of a breakdown in a regulatory system that should have caught an addicted health care technician as he spread his infection across multiple states.

But that systemic breakdown, while inexcusable, is somewhat understandable given the complexity of multiple states and third party agencies. The same cannot be said of the MBTA's failure to do a deep dive into the background of the top candidate they selected to take the $220,000 reins of the chronically underachieving and poorly managed public transit system.

The Globe reports MARTA, Atlanta's regional transit system, paid a business psychologist $144,000 to help Beverly Scott and her leadership team improve their management styles:
After a preliminary, two-month round of interviews with board members and Scott’s senior staff, the business psychologist reported back to the board that Scott’s performance could significantly improve if, among other things, she met monthly with the psychologist “for individual coaching and consultation.”
Not surprisingly Scott opted not to seek a renewal of a five-year contract, paying her $370,000 and come north for a pay cut slightly larger than the consultant's services.

Anyone who has been through the job search process knows the cat-and-mouse game involved in accentuating your positives and doing your best to sugar coat your negatives. And we all hate the question "what could you do better?"

There are also legal and other constraints on former employers telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, as the David Kwiatkowski case highlights.

But when you are hiring for a leader to take the reins of a transit system drowning in debt and known more for breakdowns than great service, should you not dig deep?

Yet the Massachusetts Department of Transportation only learned about Scott's Atlanta history from the Globe -- and only after she signed her new contract.

The results of a  MARTA audit -- also unknown to MassDOT, should have set off warning bells to the system:
The KPMG audit found MARTA to be in deep trouble, with a operating budget deficit of as much as $33 million a year, a shortfall that is being made up by dipping into reserves. The audit projects complete depletion of the system’s reserves in 2018. The “current economic model is unsustainable,” the audit said.
KPMG itemized tens of millions of dollars in potential savings that could be realized if MARTA privatized certain functions, restructured excessive compensation to employees, and curbed high absenteeism among its 4,500 workers.
In other words, on the surface Scott appears quite skilled in creating exactly the sort of problems the T hired her to solve.

At least no one has been physically harmed as a result of this failure to do a thorough background check. Yet.

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